ars libertatis

3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

On Fairy-Stories (1939), Fantasy

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity. Give me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers. And so on down the line. And at least it is done only to a small group of men who know who their master is. The mediævals were only too right in taking nolo efiscopari as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 52 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien, 29 November 1943

Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story! I think also that you are suffering from suppressed ‘writing’. That may be my fault. You have had rather too much of me and my peculiar mode of thought and reaction. And as we are so akin it has proved rather powerful. Possibly inhibited you. I think if you could begin to write, and find your own mode, or even (for a start) imitate mine, you would find it a great relief. I sense amongst all your pains (some merely physical) the desire to express your feeling about good, evil, fair, foul in some way: to rationalize it, and prevent it just festering. In my case it generated Morgoth and the History of the Gnomes. Lots of the early pans of which (and the languages) – discarded or absorbed – were done in grimy canteens, at lectures in cold fogs, in huts full of blasphemy and smut, or by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire. It did not make for efficiency and present-mindedness, of course, and I was not a good officer. ….

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 66 From a letter to Christopher Tolkien, 6 May 1944

Away from the ‘lesser servants of Mordor’. Yes, I think the orcs as real a creation as anything in ‘realistic’ fiction: your vigorous words well describe the tribe; only in real life they are on both sides, of course. For ‘romance’ has grown out of ‘allegory’, and its wars are still derived from the ‘inner war’ of allegory in which good is on one side and various modes of badness on the other. In real (exterior) life men are on both sides: which means a motley alliance of orcs, beasts, demons, plain naturally honest men, and angels. But it does make some difference who are your captains and whether they are orc-like per se! And what it is all about (or thought to be). It is even in this world possible to be (more or less) in the wrong or in the right.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 71 To Christopher Tolkien (airgraph), 25 May 1944

I think I know exactly what you mean by the order of Grace; and of course by your references to Our Lady, upon which all my own small perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded. The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 142 To Robert Murray, SJ., 2 December 1953

Are there any ‘bounds to a writer’s job’ except those imposed by his own finiteness? No bounds, but the laws of contradiction, I should think. But, of course, humility and an awareness of peril is required. A writer may be basically ‘benevolent’ according to his lights (as I hope I am) and yet not be ‘beneficent’ owing to error and stupidity. I would claim, if I did not think it presumptuous in one so ill-instructed, to have as one object the elucidation of truth, and the encouragement of good morals in this real world, by the ancient device of exemplifying them in unfamiliar embodiments, that may tend to ‘bring them home’. But, of course, I may be in error (at some or all points): my truths may not be true, or they may be distorted : and the mirror I have made may be dim and cracked. But I should need to be fully convinced that anything I have ‘feigned’ is actually harmful, per se and not merely because misunderstood, before I should recant or rewrite anything.
Great harm can be done, of course, by this potent mode of ‘myth’ – especially wilfully. The right to ‘freedom’ of the sub-creator is no guarantee among fallen men that it will not be used as wickedly as is Free Will. I am comforted by the fact that some, more pious and learned than I, have found nothing harmful in this Tale or its feignings as a ‘myth’.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 153 To Peter Hastings (draft), September 1954

Some reviewers have called the whole thing simple-minded, just a plain fight between Good and Evil, with all the good just good, and the bad just bad. Pardonable, perhaps (though at least Boromir has been overlooked) in people in a hurry, and with only a fragment to read, and, of course, without the earlier written but unpublished Elvish histories. But the Elves are not wholly good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron; as because with or without his assistance they were ‘embalmers’. They wanted to have their cake and eat it: to live in the mortal historical Middle-earth because they had become fond of it (and perhaps because they there had the advantages of a superior caste), and so tried to stop its change and history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasaunce, even largely a desert, where they could be ‘artists’ – and they were overburdened with sadness and nostalgic regret. In their way the Men of Gondor were similar: a withering people whose only ‘hallows’ were their tombs.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 154 To Naomi Mitchison, 25 September 1954

Anyway I myself saw the value of Hobbits, in putting earth under the feet of ‘romance’, and in providing subjects for ‘ennoblement’ and heroes more praiseworthy than the professionals: nolo heroizari is of course as good a start for a hero, as nolo episcopari for a bishop. Not that I am a ‘democrat’ in any of its current uses; except that I suppose, to speak in literary terms, we are all equal before the Great Author, qui deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 163 To W. H. Auden, 7 June 1955

I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much. I love Wales (what is left of it, when mines, and the even more ghastly sea-side resons, have done their worst), and especially the Welsh language. But I have not in fact been in W. for a long time (except for crossing it on the way to Ireland). I go frequently to Ireland (Eire: Southern Ireland) being fond of it and of (most of) its people; but the Irish language I find wholly unattractive.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981), 213 From a letter to Deborah Webster, 25 October 1958